Interview with Summer Houses

I loved the eclectic rock sound on your new album Frantic Hearts, ranging from punchy rock to hypnotic shades of post-punk. Your influences seem broad — from Zappa to Iron Maiden. Do all band members share a similarly all-over-the-place stylistic love, or are your tastes varied across preferred styles per member?

The boys and I think it’s really funny that we’re getting compared to Zappa so much. I have a lot of respect for Zappa as an artist, but it really isn’t my vibe. His general attitude is way too cynical for me. I think what a lot of people are hearing is my love for out there 60s music; 13th Floor Elevators, Joe Meek, the Monks, Can, all that jazz. That being said, I do love Iron Maiden very much, so you clocked me on that.

As far as the boys and I as a whole, we all generally share a similar ear for sounds, but each of us kinda looks for it in different musical arenas. Mitchell is a connoisseur of obscure Death Metal and uber depressing country, Max is a rhythmic scholar of modern HxC as-well as an avid fan of 93 Feet of Smoke, and Dylan loves sadboy/sadgirl alt pop and Eastern European techno. So I guess yeah, we all have very eclectic taste, but we’re able to share amongst each other different ideas from different areas of underground music.

In the end, we’re just some chaotic punk kids from your local DIY scene who grew up into reasonably stable adults and I think our current tastes really reflect that.

Is there a particular theme or concept that you strive for the album to get across?

This will be a bit intense to talk about, but I’ll try to keep it poignant. The album is about masculinity and under the umbrella of masculinity are themes of pushing personal limits too far, unreasonable paranoia, financial failure, sexual pressure and consequential frustration and unrealistic longing.  And I don’t wanna get things twisted and make it sound like I was making a commentary on these issues; I was very much moving through these pretty toxic feelings that were contributing to a lot pain and bad decisions in my life at the time of creation.

I think at the time I felt like I was engaging with these things from an outside perspective, but because of that I was kinda always in a dissociative fugue. Like, nothing else mattered to me, it didn’t matter how much suffering I was feeling, how much negativity I was bringing to my relationships, how repressed I felt about my sexuality and gender identity; all that mattered to me was making a piece of art that was truly worthy of existing, that would affirm my own existence. I feel strongly that I did achieve this, in a way, but with hindsight it’s kinda hard for me to feel the accomplishment as I had expected to feel it. But I think all of that is wholly part of the concept of the album.

Since finishing production I’ve drastically improved my personal life through therapy, sobriety and leaving a conservative work and familial environment that I’d been in during the years we put together Summer Houses. I’m now at a space where I can more comfortably allow myself to exist externally in ways that I feel really good about, and I’m really grateful to have had the creative space which culminated in Frantic Hearts to work past my bad feelings alongside friends who love and trust me.

The project is based in Portland, Oregon. Do you have any recommendations, music-related or otherwise, for new visitors to the city?

Max, Dylan and I grew up here in South East Portland. We’ve watched it change so much since adolescence. There’s a lot of places we’d love to recommend but are now closed or have announced closing. So that sucks a lot, but we still find fun places and there’s plenty of stuff that visitors would dig. Dancing is sacred to me, and I’m a sap for spooky synths and the motorik beat, so I go to Coffin Club quite a bit. PDX Sanctuary is a really safe, sex positive space primarily for LGBTQ+ people; that’s been an important space for me over the past year. There’s also a new multimedia art installation called Hopscotch that I’m really excited to check out; skateparks and spots all over the place, if you like hurting yourself as much as I do; and all kinds of wildly different musical spaces in every area of town.

As for some real Portland hours, we have a large woodsy park in the middle of South East called Mt. Tabor that is kinda the cultural hub of the inner city; there’s hiking, outdoor dance parties, make out hill, live performances, playgrounds, hill bombs, trees, trees, trees and a view of central east side Portland, from the peak of the dormant volcano the park exists on to the radio towers sprouting out the West Hills. I sit up there when I need to reflect. Also, like, the whole town is covered in plants and trees so just walking around the city is kinda like being in a park. To a certain point, at least.

If nothing else you can always stop in and say hi to our hunk Dylan at the Dive at the center of the universe, Tom’s Bar on the corner of Caesar Chavez and Division.

What’s your favorite venue to perform at?

Hmmmmmm… Gosh, I gotta be careful about what I say here. Currently, the White Eagle? It’s always such a chill, low stress space for me to perform, which right now is really important for me, and the booking process is reflective of that vibe. They’re always so kind to us.

Do you have a specific process or ritual when creating new music?

Oof, I dont know. Im so self conscious, lol. Like anytime I finish a big project I feel like the bombs just dropped on my world and I have to rebuild from the rubble. Like, Im just like Welp, now I have to do something completely different otherwise Im gonna be mad at myself for doing the same thing twice.” 

Right now Im kind of in a space where I need to move past this way of thinking, so I guess Im kinda trying to build a ritual for creation. Like, Ive been making a lot of silly, dancey music with Ableton, which is really easy and low stakes for me. And then I put these ideas through my 4track, expand on them  with counterpoint and tempo changes, maybe reverse the tape, just overall play around with the melodic notions. This is basically a more concise version of how I was writing music for Summer Houses up to Frantic Hearts; just with way less free form, stream of conscience experimentation. Im putting more focus on honing down strong ideas, like, just kinda just learning to play to my strengths.

And thats all just technical, musical stuff; when I feel the need to create something, to explore a new idea, I like to start by listing poetic imagery or playing around with color schemes through painting or oil pastels.

Any favorite artists or albums you’re listening to at the moment?

Aside from being completely obsessed with “Hide and Seek,” by Imogen Heap, stuff on my recent roto has been What’s Tonight to Eternity by Cindy Lee, Deathconsciousness by Have a Nice Life and Sadly The Future is No Longer What it Was by The Caretaker. 

Also Ambient Time by Opus Science Collective which is music based on Adventure Time, that album is really, really nice and very calming for me.

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

I would have loved to have acted in a John Cassavetes movie.

What do you find is the most satisfying part of being an artist?

The fleeting moments of internal, radiant bliss and accomplishment when I’m able to put an idea together in a way that sounds harmonious with my spirit. 

I told my roommate last night that it makes sense that most music is religious music. It’s really hard to create something so ephemeral and abstract without the result sort of pushing you to feel some kind of divine presence. Like, music is kind of a way for me to have a conversation between my sense of self, my subconscious and my external environment and sometimes in the act of creation the sounds come together and for a moment my little place in the universe makes sense. 

I don’t know if I’m explaining it well, like, I wouldn’t consider myself a religious person and spirituality is something that is important to me in the same way that exercise is important to me, like, I know that I have to do it for my greater goals, but sometimes it’s hard to fit it in with my other priorities. I guess I mean to say that sometimes creating music can literally feel like conversing with a higher power, with my personal higher power, and those are the most satisfying moments. And they can really happen in a multitude of situations and feelings, like goofin’ around with silly rhythmic ideas with the boys can sometimes touch upon that feeling and so can totally stressing under pressure in the studio attempting to nail the solo. Music is really amazing that way, it’s like a presence that you can summon anywhere that can take any form.

What is the biggest challenge you find in today’s music industry?

On the micro scale, right now I’m struggling to find more industry gigs outside of Summer Houses. There’s sort of a rule around Portland that you can’t book more than two shows a month, which is fine and makes sense for the kind of music circuit we’re in, but that certainly does not pay the bills. 

The band is basically paying for itself now which is amazing and a big weight off my shoulders, and beside that I’m also doing industry stuff full time now with going to school for music production/education and my status as a stagehand for the local 28 Theater Workers Union. But at this point in my career I’m barely scraping by financially, but don’t have enough time to have a supplemental job. The older hands that I work with always say “feast or famine” when reuniting at work after a Silent Summer such as this one’s been for bigger, higher paying gigs.

So yeah, just looking around to teach music to kids, record other bands, run live sound, book shows, all things that I am doing here and there when the opportunity arises, but it’s just not quite enough; I haven’t quite gotten my footing in the local industry. But I’m getting there little by little. There’s a quote by Muhammad Ali that I think about all the time, he said “What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming.”

What’s upcoming for the project?

We’re about to go into production for a split EP with our friends Counterfeit Kubrick. Beyond that we’ve begun rehearsing the tracks for our second full length.

Also, west coast tour next summer, maybe??? 🙂

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

Send your music to [email protected].

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